PODCAST:Crowdfunding, the bits that can make the whole

Our ‘Listen In’ podcast interview is with Ishita Anand, Founder and CEO of BitGiving, India’s first online social crowdfunding platform. Founded in 2013, BitGiving has hosted over 1000 campaigns and partnered with charities such as CRY (Children’s Rights and You), and Amnesty International and was instrumental in raising funds after the 2015 Nepal earthquake.

Recently named in the Forbes list of 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs in Asia, Ishita, tells us what makes certain campaigns so successful.

Podcast Transcript

RA India: Ishita Anand thank you very much for speaking to Resource Alliance India’s Listen In Podcast Series.

Ishita Anand: Thank you so much for having me. Really excited about the conversation ahead.

RA India: Ishita, we had done a podcast with authors of a Bain & Company report that says there has been a 6-fold increase in individual giving, has that growth been reflected in online giving?

Ishita Anand:  I think we’re in quite an interesting space when it comes to online giving or any sort of giving in the country, right now. About three and a half years back when we were starting out with BitGiving, we sort of saw an opportunity, because most of the not for profits and social entrepreneurs we’re looking at, were looking at going online and becoming more outward facing and actually talking about the work that they were doing on different social media platforms.  And that’s been quite an interesting push for the online giving space from a not-for-profit point of view. What’s happened is that the new age philanthropist want to be more connected to the not-for-profit that they’re supporting, they want to be connected to very targeted initiatives, which has basically meant that the touchpoints with them are in places that they are visiting online, every day. Whether it’s Facebook whether it’s email, whether it’s on Twitter. And of course, I mean we have tapped into a completely different network of philanthropists that didn’t exist five or six years back, right. They are young guys. They haven’t really given before or rather the typical recurring, send a cheque to an organisation kind of giving is not something that they’ve been part of and that’s why we are seeing quite a rapid growth with respect to online giving. Plus, organisations are now investing in it. They understand that it is logistically easier. It’s the best way to build a community around what you are doing. The community comes together not just to give, but other things as well. And they are seeing a lot of value there and that’s pretty much why it’s happening on both ends – not-for-profits investing in it and donors are looking at all sorts of projects and deciding and giving online much more, faster.

RA India: Clearly technology and digital have made a huge difference. What would you say are the top 5 trends that you’ve been seeing in the lifecycle of givers?

Ishita Anand: With online giving or even any sort of giving I agree technology has been something which has taken it forward ten-folds with respect to the amount of money that not-for- profits were raising and the kind of costs that they were incurring to be able to raise that money. We are talking about 6 years back when they were probably spending or probably losing 30 or 40 percent of what they were raising because it was offline, it was logistically heavy. If I was to talk about the trends, I think what’s emerging now is that not-for-profits that have actually ‘productified’ what they’re doing. Not-for-profits that have built that sort of a social cred from a point of view of having followers, engaged followers on social media. These are pretty much the kind of campaigns that do very well on BitGiving. And I think if I was to sort of create a thread to understand, who or what is the trend with all of that, I think any campaign which tells their story right, any campaign which is able to connect with the audiences. And the good thing in India, we have a diverse and huge audience pool. If it’s a story that has the potential to connect with the audience it going to find its audience online as well. And it’s going to viral, it’s going to get to posted again and again and that’s how not-for-profits raise money. So, people are saying that they want to see a human face attached to it which is why probably social enterprises that are led by younger social entrepreneurs tend to raise a lot of money because you’re suddenly connected to an individual who wants to make something happen. Not-for-profits also are now looking at those strategies and when they are tapping into that individual story when they are tapping into the story of change in a particular space that they’re working in, which is very targeted, works very well. So, it’s a diverse space and that’s pretty much what the trends are like right now.

RA India:  Are there any specific campaigns that have checked all the boxes? In short, what are the key ingredients to a successful campaign?

Ishita Anand: You know, story comes first and I’m not saying that that’s the only factor, but if you are able to communicate the change that you want to make, which we internally call the theory of change. Any campaign on BitGiving needs to have a theory of change and if you are able to communicate that in a way that connects with audiences, that is obviously the first part of online giving. It’s all about storytelling, it’s all about connecting. Apart from that, we’ve got an internal matrix to sort of look at campaigns and say that these are the 5 different factors that are very important for a campaign to do well. The first one being story. The second one being the campaigner, who’s the person who is actually leading the campaign. When you’re raising money online it’s very important for some people to take ownership of the amount which is being raised because it needs to at some point come from the heart, it needs to be pushed in a different way whatsoever. So, organizations that have had somebody within the organisation take ownership of raising the money have obviously done well. Or sometimes what organisations are doing now is actually moving beyond that getting their community to raise money for them, donors who’ve been there for a very long time, the next step in the ladder of engagement with them is to get them to raise money for them. So that’s the second factor, who’s raising money? Is it the organisation themselves? Is there somebody who is taking ownership? How driven are they to push the campaign forward as much as possible?  Or is it an individual, who has probably said I’m going to cycle 20 kilometers over two days hypothetically, to be able to raise money for this organisation that I’ve been supporting for the last 20 years. And as long as they’re strong enough to push it forward, it works. The second thing is the community that you’re tapping into, there are so many different diverse pockets of people who give to only certain causes. A lot of people give to education, to women. But some people only want to give to probably an organisation which works with athletes, hypothetically so. Or some people just give to environment campaigns. So, when you’re raising money, a successful campaign is one that taps into the right kind of people. I’ll just give you an example. Two and a half years back, we were fairly young and we had a campaign by an environmentalist who basically put up this campaign about making a documentary on ‘fishing cats’ in Calcutta. And she sent in the request, and at that point I was going through the campaign and I gave her a call and I said you want to raise a lakh and a half, but just so you know a lot of this is going to be your effort because I don’t know whether there’s a community that knows about fishing cats in Bengal and I don’t know who you are going to tap into, we are pretty much lost there. I said you know you are going to have to reach out to your first-degree networks, you have to reach out to your friends, family, get them to put in money etc. And she started raising money. She raised the money in a short period of time and then I had a conversation with her after that. She said I don’t know 70 percent of the people who have given to my campaign and that’s because at some point she’d reached out to quite a senior environmentalist who took the email and pushed it out into the environmentalist community in India. And before she knew it she tapped into the right kind of people, they understood exactly what she was trying to do. Even though it was that niche. So that’s really important, understanding the people who are going to put in money and then obviously having a plan. What are the different avenues that you are going to tap into to be able to raise money. As long as all these things are checked, there’s no stopping you.

RA India: Ishita Anand thank you very much for speaking to The Resource Alliance India’s Listen In Podcast Series

Ishita Anand: Thank you so much Shivraj.

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